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Mapping & Cartography

Cartographers make maps. Cartography involves many processes that require the skills of a wide range of specialists and technicians. Some workers in cartographic occupations perform routine work while others have technical jobs requiring years of training and experience. In large organizations, some workers may specialize in one function such as compiling or editing. In smaller organizations, job duties may be combined according to the type of maps produced.

Technology is revolutionizing the methods used to make maps. Cartographers use computers in their work more and more. Geographic, geodetic, political, and cultural information is fed into a computer and stored until a particular map is needed. Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) systems allow map lines to be drawn on computer screens with information processed at the push of a button. Computer-Assisted Cartography (CAC) and Computer-Aided Mapping (CAM) also refer to this automation process. Other modern data gathering techniques include aerial photography, satellite imagery, and advanced remote sensing electronic data collection techniques. Earth data-gathering satellites, computer systems such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and improvements in aerial photography all contribute to changes in cartographic occupations.

Following are some of the most common cartographic specialties and tasks:


  • Develop design concept of map product.
  • Define production specifications, such as projection, scale, size, and colors of new or revised map products.
  • Revise existing maps and charts and correct maps in various stages of completion.
  • Collect, analyze, and interpret geographic information provided by geodetic surveys, aerial photographs, and satellite data.
  • Conduct Research in mapping techniques and procedures.
  • Analyze survey data, source maps, photographs, satellite data, and other records to determine location and names of features.
  • Draw maps of geographical areas to show natural and constructed features and political boundaries.


  • Prepare original maps, charts, and drawings of inaccessible areas from aerial photographs and survey data.
  • Prepare mosaic prints, contour maps, profile sheets, and related cartographic material applying mastery of photogrammetric techniques and principles.
  • Apply mathematical formulas and photogrammetric techniques to identify, scale, and orient the size and shape of various topographic features.
  • Lay out and match aerial photographs in sequence taken, looking for missing areas.

Stereo-Plotter Operators

  • Draw topographic maps from aerial photographs using instruments which produce simultaneous projections of two photographs taken from different positions.
  • Trace contours and topographical details to produce map.
  • Form three-dimensional image of aerial photographs taken from different locations using mathematical aids, plotting instruments, and computers.

Map Editors

  • Verify the accuracy and completeness of maps by examining aerial photographs, old maps, and records to verify correct identification of features and scaled distances.
  • Store, retrieve, and compare map information using computers and data banks.

What skills are important?

Skills, knowledge, and abilities common to the specialists in Cartography include the following:

  • Geography - Understanding various methods for describing the location and distribution of land, sea, and air masses including their physical locations, relationships, and characteristics.
  • Design - Knowing design techniques, principles, tools, and instruments.
  • Mathematics - Applying knowledge of numbers, their operations, and interrelationships including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and using mathematics to solve problems.
  • Information Gathering - Knowing how to find information and identifying essential information.
  • Information Organization - Finding ways to structure or classify multiple pieces of information.
  • Solution Appraisal - Observing and evaluating the outcomes of a problem solution to identify lessons learned or redirect efforts.
  • Computers - Understanding of hardware and software including applications and programming.

In addition, Cartographers should have good concentration and vision (including stereoscopic vision), manual dexterity, an analytical mind, and the patience to perform detailed work requiring a high degree of precision and accuracy.

Links to cartographic and mapping careers:


Job Description Hydrology Specialist

Job Description Photogrammetry

Job Description Ocean Mapping

Links to more information:

Courtesy: [GeoEye, California Occupational Guide Number 517]

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